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September 11th Warrants Reflection, then Retaliation

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Graphic by Harold Arthur McNeill

1,163 words

Author’s Note:

I wrote the following column on September 15, 2001 for the Emory student newspaper The Emory Wheel. It turned out to be my last column. It was rejected without explanation. School administrators also shut down an online discussion board on which the events of 9/11 were being discussed, saying the board was too “divisive” for the community. Not too surprising, considering Emory’s student body is 33% Jewish. 

During the past week, all Americans have had to endure the shock and agony of the most spectacular and deadly terrorist attack in our history. The physical and psychological effects of this attack must be fought with every ounce of American resolve. And those who committed it must be punished swiftly, severely, and to the fullest extent of the law. Under no circumstances must those who resort to killing civilians for the sake of political gain be allowed to escape justice.

On this issue, Americans stand united in the greatest show of support for their country since World War II.

Yet, I remain apprehensive about the next few weeks. My fear is not that America will fail in identifying and bringing to justice the perpetrators of this attack; this nation has repeatedly proven that it is unstoppable when it unites in a common cause. My fear is that the “quiet, unyielding anger” of the American public which President Bush described in his Tuesday address will grow into the fury of a mob. My fear is that US retaliation will, like the original attack, result in excessive loss of innocent life. My fear is that, after everything is said and done, greater anger, misunderstanding, and mistrust will exist between America and the Muslim world than exists right now.

Assuming Osama bin Laden is the culprit, I suggest the following plan of action: (1) Obtain good intelligence on the whereabouts of his terrorist camps in Afghanistan, (2) Send in the most elite of our Special Forces to conduct a surgical strike, (3) Capture and evacuate bin Laden for a public trial in the US. If America bombs Kabul, attempts to overthrow the Taliban government, or is in any other way overzealous in flexing its military might in the region, we will lose in the long run. We will almost certainly lose the support of the Muslim world, we will jeopardize the support of Russia, and the sympathy felt by millions worldwide for our country’s suffering will disappear overnight.

After all, despite what politicians and journalists may say, the attackers were not “cowards.” The terrorists committed indescribably horrible and ruthless acts against the American people, but sacrificing one’s own life for a cause in which one firmly believes is not cowardice, regardless of how misguided one is. What’s tragic about the next few weeks is that, if we use more force than justice requires, good Americans who firmly believe in the cause of protecting the US from terrorism will end up fighting against good Muslims who will only be defending their land. After these Muslims are crushed by the US military, they will be more inclined to consider terrorism as the only way to call attention to the injustices occurring in Palestine. Anger begets anger, and regardless of how much money we spend on anti-terrorist measures, the ugly cycle will repeat itself. What’s happening right now in Palestine is an example of such a cycle.

I fear for the next few weeks because of the irresponsible reporting I’ve already seen on television. The Palestinians who allegedly “danced in the streets and passed out candy” after the attacks were a very small minority. Very little media attention was given to the fact that the attack was condemned by every single Palestinian organization and entity, including Fatah, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Hamas; Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi told a news conference the celebrations were “misguided” and “aberrations” motivated by a feeling among Palestinians that they have been victims of US backing for Israel.

Few know that the US Consul in Jerusalem reported that he has received a huge stack of faxes from Palestinians and Palestinian organizations expressing condolences, grief, and solidarity, or that dozens of Palestinian men, women and, children gathered spontaneously upon hearing the news in front of the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, lighting candles and placing flowers along its walls. Some of the placards they carried read: “Terror is our common enemy” and “We are victims too.”

“We are victims too.”

How true that statement is: If only we Americans knew, as the Palestinians know, what it is like to lose control over one’s own land. If only we knew what it is like to be legally discriminated against, to appeal to the international community and to be ignored. If only we knew what it is like to have stones returned with bullets, or to endure state-sanctioned torture. If only Americans knew what it was like to be totally powerless and at the mercy of another nation . . . and to have the United States, the most powerful country in the world, provide economic and military aid to that nation—at a rate of nearly $10 million per day every day of the year—while at the same time the US piously lectures the rest of the world about human rights abuses. If Americans understood these things, I might feel more confident that the US counterattack wouldn’t involve any more loss of life than justice requires.

Responsible Americans should recognize that US foreign policy in the Middle East is partially to blame for the atrocities that occurred last Tuesday. I would personally like to see the US adopt a neutral foreign policy in the Middle East. Besides reducing the threat of anti-US terrorism, such a stance would also help bring peace to the region. If Israel could no longer count on US military and economic aid, Jews would be far more inclined to come to a fair, equitable settlement with the Palestinians.

In any case, an overzealous, iron-fisted American response to the recent attacks is not the answer: Israel has been responding to terrorism in such a manner for many years, often killing many more in counterattacks than were killed in the original attack, and they still have a problem with terrorism, despite high levels of security.

I’m betting that the average American hasn’t given much thought to US foreign policy in the Middle East, opting not to concern himself with an area of the world that doesn’t affect him directly. I’m hoping that the atrocious events of last week cause the average American to give some thought to the policy we want our government to have in the Middle East, instead of merely eliciting a knee-jerk “bomb the hell out of ’em so I can forget about it and go back to watching the game” reaction. For the sake of those who will be targeted if another attack occurs, let’s hope for the former.